Monthly Archives: January 2007

Thoughts For Better Conference Discussions

A highlight of an ALA conference for many librarians is the discussion sessions. Unlike the structured programs, anyone can take center stage as the speaker. There’s no set agenda so anything can happen. Great discussions are stimulating, but they really work best when those in attendance are activated and make themselves integral to the program. We should use these forums to challenge our thinking and traditional methods.

At one such session I attended in Seattle, which had a great premise for a heated discussion, it just never seemed to materialize. Instead of hard questions and bold calls for action, what I mostly heard fell into one of two categories, either “here’s what I do at my library – who else is doing this?” or the variant “we tried this – is anyone doing it better than we are?” These are good questions to ask and that’s one reason folks come to the sessions – to share what they’re doing with others in order to affirm they are moving in the right direction. But to my way of thinking, those fishing for answers to these types of questions could do their trolling in the sea of discussion lists. My personal preference is to move beyond “my library” to “our profession and its future”. I’d like to hear more of “why are we doing this”, “what do our patrons want”, “is this the best we can do” or “can we do this better next year or should we do something else”. I think these questions can lead to a far more engaging discussion.

So here are some ideas, aimed at discussion participants, I thought of that might lead to better, more engaging discussions at future conferences:

  • Think more globally about the discussion topic. It’s not just about your library but what could be happening beyond it.
  • Be on the lookout for articles on the topic or new ideas related to it – share them in addition to your own local experience.
  • If at all possible give some thought to the topic before you get to the room; you’re more likely to be in the right spirit to get engaged in the conversation. I realize that some folks just drop in to these discussions on an “it’s convienent to where I am” basis, but a fair number of us know about the topic in advance owing to a prior invitation.
  • Jot down some questions you’d like to ask, in advance of the program, that could prompt others to say “hmmm” let me think about that.”
  • If a group is significantly large (50 or more) you might be able to get by as a lurker. But smaller group discussions only work if everyone contributes. Even if you think what you have to say won’t be significant, get it out on the table anyway. You never know what’s going to spark others to get engaged in the discussion. If no one shares an interest or finds it worthwhile to discuss, they’ll just move on – don’t take it personally.
  • If you are just joining to passively listen (or rest your feet before moving on) consider that you might be taking a seat from someone who really wants to be at the table to add to the discussion.
  • Perhaps the moderators of these programs can allocate the discussion time so that the first half is “how are we doing it good at our libraries” and the second half could be the “why are we doing this and what else could we be doing to make our libraries better”. The session organizers could even put these (and their own) “tips for preparing for our discussion” into their invitational e-mail messages. Let’s always aim for discussions that send us home thinking about more than just what we’re doing in our own library.

    Posted by StevenB

    Communications in Information Literacy

    With scholarly communications at the front of many academic librarians’ minds, it seemed worth noting the new journal – Communications in Information Literacy. According to the journal’s website (

    Communications in Information Literacy (CIL) is an independent, professional, refereed electronic journal dedicated to advancing knowledge, theory, and research in the area of information literacy. CIL is committed to the principles of information literacy as set forth by the Association of College and Research Libraries. CIL is also committed to the principles of open access for academic research.

    Submissions are being accepted and, in full-disclosure, I must mention that I am part of the editorial team for this publication. Seems an excellent opportunity to share one’s writing and also further the open access movement.

    Lisa Hinchliffe

    Truthiness in Publishing

    Nature is reporting that the Association of American Publishers arranged for a “pit bull” public relations specialist to help big science publishers (including Wiley, Elsevier, and the American Chemical Society) defend themselves from the open access movement.

    The consultant advised them to focus on simple messages, such as “Public access equals government censorship”. He hinted that the publishers should attempt to equate traditional publishing models with peer review, and “paint a picture of what the world would look like without peer-reviewed articles”. . .

    In an enthusiastic e-mail sent to colleagues after the meeting, Susan Spilka, Wiley’s director of corporate communications, said Dezenhall explained that publishers had acted too defensively on the free-information issue and worried too much about making precise statements. Dezenhall noted that if the other side is on the defensive, it doesn’t matter if they can discredit your statements, she added: “Media messaging is not the same as intellectual debate”.

    Nor is it the same, apparently, as telling the truth. But what seems almost stranger to me is the statement to Nature by Brian Crawford of the ACS. He believes that when a government agency insists the results of its publicly funded research be made public, it’s engaging in censorship.

    “When any government or funding agency houses and disseminates for public consumption only the work it itself funds, that constitutes a form of selection and self-promotion of that entity’s interests.”

    What?! Dude, those are MY interests. I PAID for them.

    Posted by Barbara Fister


    My midwinter conference was held in New Orleans, where the Association of American Colleges and Universities held its annual meeting. It was an interesting gathering, where I enjoyed sessions on assessing experiential education, integrative learning, and several on undergraduate research. Many of us got to know the city a bit better through a presentation on using primary sources in teaching with a faculty member from a Pennsylvania college who works regularly with librarians and archivists at the Historic New Orleans Collection. Apart from that session, I only met one other librarian (who is now a provost) but was struck by how much faculty and administrators embraced information literacy as one of several key intellectual and practical skills, identified in the AAC&U’s Greater Expectations report and revisited in a just-released publication, College Learning for the New Global Century. At one of the research-related sessions, a round table discussion of how St. Lawrence University makes research the center of its first year seminar, faculty praised librarians’ pedagogical knowhow and expertise, not knowing there was a librarian in the audience!

    Also discussed at the conference, and worth a read, is a survey of business leaders and new graduates about what areas they feel need more emphasis in college. Seventy percent of the employers surveyed said colleges and universities should place more emphasis on learning how to locate, organize, and evaluate information. (The recent graduates were less convinced; only 48% felt it should receive more attention – but still, that’s nearly half!)

    All of which leaves me more convinced than ever that information literacy as a concept isn’t a hard sell. Clearly, these skills are in high demand. Acknowledging the faculty’s co-ownership of the issues and providing them with opportunities to talk about what they’re trying to accomplish and a chance to share tools and ideas for accomplishing it can go a long way to making it happen.

    posted by Barbara Fister

    An ACRL Research Program At ALA

    Academic librarians are churning out research like never before. One problem is that there are too few venues in which that research can be presented. Our profession’s primary outlet for the presentation of research is the ACRL national conference held every other year. But is that too little, too infrequently? As it stands the number of academic librarians seeking to present at ACRL far exceeds the number of slots so the typical acceptance rate for contributed papers stands at about 20 percent. Those who get accepted love it because it raises and maintains the prestige level of acceptance at ACRL national. Those who are rejected are likely to never try again. Is there a way to give those who want to present their research to peers an opportunity to do so?

    A possible solution is bubbling up in ACRL, but opinions are divided. Several ACRL sections, the disciplinary-focused ones in particular, are promoting the idea that ACRL should offer a program at each ALA annual conference that would strictly cater to research paper presentations. As it stands current ACRL programs at ALA are topical or theme based, and the speakers are recruited individually. A research paper program would follow the same proposal-peer review-accept or reject model used at the national ACRL conference.

    While I like the idea of creating more opportunities for members to present research I’m concerned that ALA may not be the best place to offer such opportunities. ALA already suffers from a severe case of program glut. Can you squeeze another program into your schedule? And how far will this actually go towards creating more presentation opportunities. Perhaps a half-dozen librarians will have a chance to present while dozens more are once again rejected.

    I much prefer the development of webcasted research forums. These could be monthly programs that would feature three or so presentations. The ACRL sections interesting in promoting more research presentations could create a review panel from among their members. ACRL already has great expertise in staging web-based conference events. The events will be archived so those that don’t make it to the live program always have a chance to view it. A fee? I’m not sure. Perhaps it could managed without one if the interested chapters used their budgets to fund the programs. Perhaps sponsors could be found.

    But let’s be clear about our objectives. If we want to create another low acceptance rate opportunity that caters to tenure-track librarians seeking a high profile mark on their CV, a single program once a year at ALA will do just fine. But if we really want to facilitate the distribution of useful research, to give more (and newer) members better chances to make a presentation to their peers, and we want to do it in a way that makes it easy for members to participate in an anywhere, anytime mode, then a web-based approach seems the superior option. What do you think?

    Posted by StevenB